Despite it being a rough start in terms of momentum and shot totals, Fulham came away from Nottingham Forest with a 3-1 win. However, Aboubakar Kamara picked up an injury late in last Tuesday’s game and is considered doubtful for tonight’s fixture. This is a massive shame because the 22-year old Frenchman genuinely looked like he was starting to put it together after his two goals in two games.
Against Forest, Jokanovic tried a 4-2-3-1 with the returning Rui Fonte playing as a number 10 while Kamara was up front. While the combinations did seem to work up front, Fulham were completely exposed at the back thanks to the 20 shots (four of them being on target) and 1.9 expected goals they have given up. Now the club have given up over 1.3 expected goals now for three straight games and it is time to wonder if Fulham really have the pieces at midfield and along the back four to genuinely hold it together before David Button’s form and their overall luck starts to worsen.
The club would really like to have Rafa Soares and his otherworldly potential out their as well as Tom Cairney, Floyd Ayite and Lucas Piazon. Still, Slavisa Jokanovic is not lacking in talent accross the pitch to still push for promotion. Yoann Mollo has performed well in his 102 minutes of action. Add in Neeskans Kebano returning to full health, as well as Ryan Sessegnon and Sheyi Ojo willing to bomb forward and Fulham do not lack in attacking options out wide. Fonte should be more of a focal point up front tonight as I would suggest reverting back to the 4-3-3 formation at Loftus Road and hope that the international break gives enough time for the rest of the team to come back ready to go for the next set of fixtures.
Whoever Jokanovic chooses, he will hope his combination works against fellow mid-tablers and local rivals Queens Park Rangers. The hoops will hope to return to good form after only winning once and collecting six points in their last seven games. Manager Ian Holloway initially had his side set up in a 3-5-2 formation before reverting to a more conventional 4-2-3-1 look.
That being said, QPR are a quality side when it comes to producing and conceding shots. They also are a hard pressing team as evidence to their Championship leading 14.2 interceptions per 90 minutes. Their brick wall of a central midfield has been hard to get passed this campaign, so Fulham will really have to attack from the flanks and spring their fullbacks loose. So who are the players that have really made our London neighbors go?
According to manager Holloway, there is no better midfielder in the Championship than the 25-year old Australia International. His radar will make you beg to differ, however. Still, if you are looking for a player that best portrays a box-to-box midfielder, Luongo is that guy.
He leads the team in combined tackles and interceptions with 53 and is also a high rate dribbler at 1.67 of them per 90 minutes. Along with newcomer Josh Scowen, Queens Park Rangers have two of the best pressing midfielders in the Championship. But like the rest of Holloway’s team, he can be a bit reckless in the tackle and that is where Fulham will need to be at their most disciplined. Because of Luongo, however, winning the midfield battle will be crucial to determining Fulham’s fate tonight.
No longer in the shadows at Bristol City, Luke Freeman is able to display his attacking skill set at a more prominent club and he has become one of the better players in the Championship in this early stage of the season. Name a statistical category, and there’s a good chance Freeman is leading the club in it.
Scoring Contributions? Freeman’s got that down pat with two goals and four assists. Chances Created? Freeman is lapping his teammates with 21 of them. Successful Dribbles? No one is close to Freeman’s 26 or 2.62 per 90 minute rate. Shots? Freeman even leads that but at just 28 and a 2.83 per 90 minute rate.
As great as it is for the 25-year old former Arsenal youth academy product to be the absolute fulcrum of the team, others have to be on the end of his passes. The next man up in shots is Conor Washington with 18 (2.35 per 90 minutes) followed by a two way tie between Luongo (1.89 per 90 minutes) and Jamie Mackie (2.19 per 90 minutes) with 17. It’s not like Fulham are much better off, but the hoops are clearly lacking a starting out-and-out striker that can take over a game since Charlie Austin left the club. Until then, QPR will hope that Holloway’s systems can get them through.
The last player I will analyze is not just a potential threat to Fulham’s chances but one in which the Craven Cottage faithful are quite familiar of. At 28, Matt Smith is clearly not a starting caliber player in a top tier Championship club anymore. But at 6’6”, everyone and their mother knows what Smith is out there to do when he comes off the bench: leading the line, winning headers and scoring goals. With three tallies this season in just 302 minutes, Smith’s reputation as an instant impact player are so evident in his data.
This season, Smith is averaging an astonishing 4.17 shots per 90 minutes in comparison to the 3.86 per 90 minutes throughout the past four league campaigns. Along with that, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in any division of English football winning 13.5 headers per 90 minutes during that same time span. My radars think hitting elite levels in that category is just getting over 4.5 per 90 minutes! So we all know who Matt Smith is. We know his one job, but can it be stopped? Some of the best fighters of all time only need one technique to make the textbook knockout, after all.